By Laura Weber
Mitt Romney dominated the presidential candidate straw poll this weekend during the Michigan Republican Party conference on Mackinac Island.
Romney and Rick Perry both spoke at the conference, but fervor for Romney swept over the island. Many delegates said the Michigan native offers hope of turning Michigan a red state in the upcoming presidential election.
It was clear from the beginning of the weekend that Mitt Romney’s homecoming was eagerly anticipated. Many folks wore Romney t-shirts or stickers, and hung Romney signs around Mackinac Island.
But not everyone was sold on the former Massachusetts governor. Gary Glenn a conservative Republican candidate for the U-S Senate said he was more interested in hearing what Texas Governor Rick Perry had to say.
“Governor Perry has a record. They’re a Right To Work state, Michigan is a compulsory unionism state. And so there is a clear comparison that you can make between the state that is No. 1 in the nation in job creation, the state that’s No. 50 for having lost the most manufacturing jobs.”
There was some marked anticipation for Governor Perry’s presence. Party members stood in a long, claustrophobic line to flood the dining room where Perry would speak, waiting to see just what the Texan could offer Michigan. Perry told the crowd right off that he did not want to disappoint them.
“We were coming up here and they said ‘Don’t mispronounce the island’s name.’ So it is an honor to be on Mackinac Island, let me tell you ladies and gentlemen! What a beautiful place.”
Perry said Michigan is the source of a fond boyhood memory.
“Dad said ‘Listen, I’ll just drive up to Michigan,” and I think he went to Flint, or actually I think he went to Fenton to pick up a new GMC pick-up truck.”
The crowd often clapped supportively and politely, with occasional cheers. But nothing and no one stood a chance with the audience once Romney entered the building.
“I love being in Michigan, I like people who know what Vernors is. I like people who when you ask them where they’re from they hold up their hand and point to a piece on their thumb. I love that…”
And the crowd went wild. Romney took on the air of a presidential Johnny Carson – drawing wild laughter and occasional tears. He told boyhood stories of time spent in Michigan with his father, former governor George Romney, and his wife, Ann, whom he said he fell in love with on Mackinac Island.
“It’s a wonderful place for us. It’s got special memories. Mitt mentioned we met when I was just 16…”
That’s Ann Romney.
“…He said ‘My father’s governor of Michigan.’ Obviously I knew that. ‘How about would you like to go up to Mackinac and stay in the governor’s mansion with my family.’ And I thought ‘That is a great idea.”
Audience members began clinking their forks on wine glasses, like a chorus of champagne flutes at a wedding.
“I don’t even know what… Oh!”
The crowd gave Mitt Romney four standing ovations, as if he were giving his first State of the Union address.
“What an incredibly beautiful place. And I might add, rather romantic as well.”
Don’t forget, though, that Rick Perry had come to the island too. Perry may not have the rich family history in Michigan that Romney has, nor can he point to a location on his hand to tell Michigan Republican Party members where he’s from. But he made an earnest plea to the state’s party faithful to take him seriously as a presidential candidate. And he assured them he took them seriously as well.
“Listen, you all did something this last election cycle that was pretty powerful. You elected a Republican Legislature and a Republican governor I know what that means! Rick Snyder is going to be out there every day knocking on doors in Texas, trying to get them to move jobs from Texas to Michigan. I understand that. And that is what it’s supposed to be about.”
In the end, Romney ran away with the straw poll. Perhaps not surprisingly.
“From a very selfish standpoint I think Mitt Romney, for a state race, for a Legislative race, for everything else, is good for us…”
That’s Saul Anuzis, one of Michigan’s representatives on the Republican national committee.
“…I mean having Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket would probably put Michigan in a play, which means there would be national resources diverted here and investments made that would be good for the rest of the party.”
The chairman of the state party, Bobby Schostak, said Romney’s name could appeal to Republican and independent voters in Michigan, and perhaps turn the state red for the first time since 1988.
Photo by Chelsea Hagger, MPRN
Copyright 2010, MPRN